Revisiting a Guiding Idea: Creating A Progress Culture in a School

Photograph by Katelyn Jones, Westminster Class of 2013
Photograph by Katelyn Jones

Recently I had two photographs framed. Made by Katelyn Jones, member of The Westminster Schools Class of 2013, right now they are leaning against the wall of my office ready to be hung. By digitally layering images on top of each other, she created something compelling. There is a magical, somehow dreamlike, quality to each. They leave the impression that they are at once complete and incomplete–that they are finished constructions but they could also be reimagined and reconstructed. By subtracting one image, a book could disappear; by adding another image, a red coat might appear on the front corner of the bed. The images have a kind of elasticity I find fascinating.

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Just over a year ago, I started writing about an idea I have called Progress Culture.  In an October 2011 blog post (“School Transformation: Becoming a Progress Culture”), I tried to define the idea as concisely as possible, and in a November entry (“Stretching the Rubber Band in a Progress Culture”), I wrote about the necessity of creating a more elastic school culture. Now a year later I am still intrigued by the idea of creating a Progress Culture in a school, and I am excited about where the effort to create one will lead my school.

At the heart of the idea is this: the goal of a Progress Culture is to put a school forever in the position to reflect on and respond expediently to a changing world and to an evolving understanding of how students best learn.

Recently, we have been studying implementation of a new schedule, and it looks more and more as if we will be fully ready to put it in place by the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. There are two central goals of the schedule—goals that, if not met, would scuttle the process: first, better align with the Strategic Plan and Learning for Life Vision Statement, and second, improve student life and balance in our program.

I have a third goal as well, and while it is a different sort of objective, I perceive it as almost as critical as the first two: our new schedule should be flexible enough to allow for it to develop and evolve as new needs and opportunities arise. This schedule should include the potential to grow with us as we move toward the school’s strategic vision.  In short, it should have some elastic qualities similar to those I named in describing the idea of a rubber band holding a Progress Culture together.

Most academic day schedules are problematic on at least two fronts. They are often an ill-fit suit of clothes for the daily learning we hope to have take place, and they don’t allow easily for changes of pace or unusual circumstances. So, on a day-to-day basis our schedules fall short in terms of what they deliver, and when there is a particular need to support something outside the routine, the old schedule is too brittle to bend without turning the entire school up side down.  In our new schedule we hope to address both problems. While we recognize that no daily schedule can resolve either issue fully, we do think we can put in place a schedule that will substantially improve our daily routine, as well as our ability to be flexible.

The ideas related to creating a Progress Culture remain relevant to me in virtually every conversation I have about our strategic direction as a school. Schools should not be built to stand still.  While keeping an eye on what should never change in a school, we should continually strive to position ourselves so that we can move toward what might be better for our students learning.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting a Guiding Idea: Creating A Progress Culture in a School

  1. Darren Coxon October 8, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    I very much like the idea of a progress culture: we spend so much time on grades, and it is good to see someone looking beyond this, at the bigger picture. Keep up the good work!

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